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Flora's Empire

British Gardens in India

By Eugenia W. Herbert

Publication Year: 2012

Like their penchant for clubs, cricket, and hunting, the planting of English gardens by the British in India reflected an understandable need on the part of expatriates to replicate home as much as possible in an alien environment. In Flora's Empire, Eugenia W. Herbert argues that more than simple nostalgia or homesickness lay at the root of this "garden imperialism," however. Drawing on a wealth of period illustrations and personal accounts, many of them little known, she traces the significance of gardens in the long history of British relations with the subcontinent. To British eyes, she demonstrates, India was an untamed land that needed the visible stamp of civilization that gardens in their many guises could convey.

Colonial gardens changed over time, from the "garden houses" of eighteenth-century nabobs modeled on English country estates to the herbaceous borders, gravel walks, and well-trimmed lawns of Victorian civil servants. As the British extended their rule, they found that hill stations like Simla offered an ideal retreat from the unbearable heat of the plains and a place to coax English flowers into bloom. Furthermore, India was part of the global network of botanical exploration and collecting that gathered up the world's plants for transport to great imperial centers such as Kew. And it is through colonial gardens that one may track the evolution of imperial ideas of governance. Every Government House and Residency was carefully landscaped to reflect current ideals of an ordered society. At Independence in 1947 the British left behind a lasting legacy in their gardens, one still reflected in the design of parks and information technology campuses and in the horticultural practices of home gardeners who continue to send away to England for seeds.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Penn Studies in Landscape Architecture

Title Page, Frontispiece, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

The novelist Penelope Lively devotes an entire chapter of her autobiography to her grandmother’s gardens over several generations. With their lawns, informal walks, lily ponds, snowdrops, bluebells, and roses, they are virtual palimpsests of English garden history as...

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Introduction: Cowslips and Lotuses

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pp. 1-15

When Britons arrived in India in the opening years of the seventeenth century, they found the subcontinent awash with flowers. But the flowers were different, their wanton abundance unsettling. Absent were the cowslips and daisies of British...

Part I: Gardeners Abroad

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pp. 17-136

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Chapter 1: From Garden House to Bungalow, Nabobs to Heaven-Born

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pp. 19-61

Surveying his newly won domains in northern India, Zahirrudin Muhammad Babur was appalled. Descendant of Tamurlane and, more distantly, of Genghis Khan, the victor of Panipat (1526) would have preferred to rule Samarkand; instead he had to settle for the dusty...

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Chapter 2: Calcutta and the Gardens of Barrackpore

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pp. 62-96

Barrackpore, in former times the country retreat of the governor- general of India, lies some fifteen miles upriver from Calcutta. A short distance, one would think, but enough to guarantee a respite from the sweltering heat that descended on the capital of British India...

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Chapter 3: Over the Hills and Far Away: The Hill Stations of India

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pp. 97-136

India was not for the fainthearted. Those who arrived in the cool season were agreeably surprised by the sunshine and pleasant temperatures, such a contrast to the Stygian gloom of British winters. But all three presidency towns—Madras, Calcutta, and Bombay—were low...

Part II: Gardens of Empire

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Chapter 4: Eastward in Eden: Botanical Imperialism and Imperialists

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pp. 139-180

In 1760 Haidar Ali, soldier of fortune and de facto ruler of Mysore, ordered the creation of a botanical garden in Bangalore, the first in India. He gave it the common name of Lal Bagh, or “red garden,” for its abundance of roses and other red flowers. Inspired by the French...

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Chapter 5: Gardens of Memory

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pp. 181-196

Lucknow was a city renowned for its oriental extravagance, not to say decadence. To Victorian England it symbolized all that was wrong with India and all, as they came increasingly to believe, that they could set right. Lucknow and the surrounding province...

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Chapter 6: The Taj and the Raj: Restoring the Taj Mahal

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pp. 197-226

Lord Curzon served as viceroy of India from 1899 to 1905. One of the accomplishments of which he was proudest was the preservation and restoration of India’s ancient monuments during his watch and with his active participation. And of none was he prouder...

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Chapter 7: Imperial Delhi: City of Gardens

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pp. 227-256

Gazing out upon Delhi in 1838, Fanny Parks beheld a vast panorama of gardens, pavilions, mosques, and burial places. But the “once magnificent city” was now “nothing more than a heap of ruins.”1 When the British became masters of Delhi...

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Chapter 8: Imperial New Delhi: The Garden City

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pp. 257-284

As a child growing up in New Delhi in the 1930s, Patwant Singh could not have asked for more. “The magnificent sweep of this imperial city which the British were building, with a passion which matched that of India’s Mughal rulers, was heaven-sent...

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Chapter 9: The Legacy

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pp. 285-302

The English garden legacy put down roots in India long before that nation achieved independence in 1947. In 1843 Baron von Orlich noted that the rajah of Bhurtpore, installed and educated by East India Company officials, had laid out “an uncommonly...

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Conclusion: Garden Imperialism

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pp. 303-314

Thus far the focus of this book has been on the life and afterlife of British colonial gardens in India. Now it is time to put them in a larger context and try to tease out what they may tell us about British imperialism...

Common Trees, Shrubs, and Plants in India South of the Himalayas

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pp. 315-318


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pp. 319-351


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pp. 353-371


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pp. 373-379

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pp. 381-382

I would never have thought of extending my researches to India without the prompting of my friend Nancy Frieden, to whom I shall always be profoundly grateful for enlarging my world to this exciting subcontinent, as well as for most helpful comments on several of the chapters...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812205053
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812243260

Page Count: 432
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Penn Studies in Landscape Architecture